As promised, I’m going to share with you the recipe for that wonderful bread in my previous post. It was made using a master recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. The process—and recipe—is explained in detail in a number of other sites, which is where I first stumbled upon it. This master recipe has made me a believer, and I’ve already ordered the book. If baking bread in all its wonderful forms is something that interests you, I highly recommend that you do the same.
Check out their website, too. They have tons of incredible recipes, including one that uses this master recipe and a simple technique to make homemade naan.
I foresee a sharp increase in baking activities in this household. Likely to be accompanied by a corresponding increase in butter consumption.
I am also trying NOT to foresee a sharp increase in random acts of violence against the bathroom scale. Or the sudden purchase of circus mirrors.
Now, I’ve always been a dinner roll kind of gal. I like my bread light, fluffy, soft, and slightly sweet. If you’ve ever had good, freshly-baked Filipino pan de sal, you’ll know what I mean.
My husband, on the other hand, is more of a crusty, chewy, well-salted bread kinda guy. And it was my quest to make him the perfect loaf of crusty bread that led me to experiment with all kinds of recipes. And oh, there were so many of them. To illustrate the magnitude of my culinary ignorance, I spent quite some time searching for “recipes for French bread with big holes.” I even tried “large holes” or “holey” and all its different iterations. I think it probably took me a week to discover that “big holes,” while descriptive, only returns all sorts of strange results. What I really wanted was “open crumb.” (Although, in my defense, I still think “big holes” makes more sense.)
The first recipes I tried all involved the use of some amount of bread flour, heavy kneading, long rising times. Often, I couldn’t get that open crumb that I was looking for. I also tried the most popular no-knead recipes, but couldn’t get consistent results. Finally, I thought I nailed it. I found a long, involved recipe online that involved three separate rises (three!), took about 8 to 10 hours from start to finish, and included having to count out 6 ice cubes and hurling them onto the hot oven floor to create steam. And while the resulting bread had wonderful taste and texture and sported the elusive open crumb that I was looking for, the process was just so time-consuming and tedious that more often than not, I didn’t even bother getting started.
Then I found this recipe. And, truth be told, it wasn’t the promise of perfect, chewy, crunchy crust or the complex flavor of the resulting bread that convinced me to try it. No, I was drawn in by the “Five Minutes a Day” part of it, and the calculation that, with this recipe, you pretty much end up spending about 50 cents per loaf. Fifty cents! I can’t even get a decent bagel for that price. And you know what the clincher was?
You see those stripes? I wanted those stripes. I don’t know why, but at some point in my life, I apparently decided that I needed striped bread. And that it would be very, very good. (And okay, they’re not really called “stripes.” I found out later that it’s called a “scallop” pattern. It was an entire “big holes” embarrassment all over again.)
So here’s how to make the bread. You’ll need:
3 cups of lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Grab a very large mixing bowl, or a large container that you can cover. In it, mix the water, yeast, and salt. You don’t even have to heat up the water to a precise optimal temperature for the yeast. I’ve even used just regular tap water, and it’s worked well for me. Just let that sit together for a while (you don’t have to wait for the yeast to dissolve completely), then dump the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon. You don’t need to knead this, and you’re not looking to make it come together into a dough ball. You just want everything mixed well, with no streaks of flour left, and you’re done.
Leave it in your container, covered (but not airtight, or it’ll pop), for a few hours. When it has risen and then deflated a bit, your dough is done. It’s ready to be used or stored in the refrigerator.
(That was me being a dork about estimating the size of the container I’d need. I ended up just lopping off all that excess dough and baking it right after.)
To bake the bread, just grab a chunk of dough (they recommend a chunk about the size of a grapefruit, but I’ve done larger chunks with no problem). Dust your hands with flour to help prevent sticking, and gently pull the sides of the dough toward the bottom, rotating the dough, until you get a roundish shape with a smooth surface. It should only take you about a minute or less to do this. The dough won’t be entirely in the bottom, where it may look bunched up, but don’t worry about it.
Put it on a pizza peel that’s been dusted with cornmeal to prevent sticking, and let it rest for at least 40 minutes. No need to cover it. If the dough has been refrigerated, it helps to let it rest a little more, until it’s no longer chilled.
Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake, put a pizza stone in the middle rack of your oven, and put a broiler pan in the bottom rack. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Dust some flour on the top of your loaf, and make your pretty slashes, about 1/4-inch deep. You can do a simple ‘x’ across it, a tic-tac-toe grid, or the stripes, er, scallop pattern.
After twenty minutes of preheating, it’s time to bake. (You can put the bread in after 20 minutes, even if your oven hasn’t reached 450 degrees yet.) Slide the loaf onto the baking stone, and then quickly (and CAREFULLY, lest you burn yourself like some hapless people I know) pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler pan. Then quickly shut the oven door to keep the steam inside.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until you get a nice brown crust. The crust will crackle and pop and make all sorts of happy noises as it sits on a wire rack to cool. It tastes best when you let it cool completely. Don’t worry if your beautiful crust seems to soften a bit. It will harden again, I promise.
And that’s all there is to it. It honestly took me more time to type this out than to make a loaf of bread. And although it still does involve some resting and rising time, the amount of time that you actually handle the dough is really only about five minutes.
The crust is nice and crisp and chewy, and the longer the dough sits, the more it develops a sourdough flavor. When you’re almost out of dough, you don’t even have to wash your container out. You can just go ahead and mix your next batch of dough in it, and the leftover remnants of bread help start it on its merry sourdough way. I think it would make a wonderful bread bowl for some creamy, hearty clam chowder. The dough can be used as pizza dough as well, and, as mentioned earlier, it can be used to make naan. Which I can’t wait to try.
And this, my friends, is my new favorite bread. And the new staple in this house. It’s easy, convenient, and tastes amazing. And although I still enjoy a good, soft dinner roll, this bread is quickly converting me.
Who knew big holes and stripes could be so convincing?